Jimmy Graham’s first season in a Green Bay Packers uniform was less than stellar. The tight end, who came over from the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent, was expected to provide a big impact in the middle of the field as a big-bodied receiving option for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
That impact was muted. Graham caught 55 passes for 636 yards, an average of 11.6 yards per reception, and those numbers exceeded his 2017 totals in both yardage and average. However, Graham caught just two touchdown passes, down massively from ten such catches the prior year for the Seahawks. Furthermore, he went through stretches in which he was entirely a non-factor; although Graham caught a pass in all 16 games, he had two or fewer receptions six times and had just six games with four or more catches.
Although Graham’s free agent contract paid him $13 million in the first year of the deal and scheduled out $30 million in total compensation over three years, the Packers could have had an out this season. APC broke down the team’s options for Graham last week: keeping him or cutting him one of two different ways. However, it seems that the Packers are moving ahead with Graham in their plans for the 2019 season.
That report comes from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Tuesday afternoon. Although situations can change, Rapoport’s sources indicate that the team plans to keep Graham for at least one more year. Doing so will mean paying Graham a $5 million roster bonus shortly after the 2019 league year begins in March, and Graham will carry a salary cap hit of $12.67 million this season.
The hope for Packers fans is that the new coaching staff under Matt LaFleur can help justify that cap hit and get more out of Graham than Mike McCarthy did. Under McCarthy, Graham was often used as an in-line tight end and asked to block. However, Graham’s ability and effort as a blocker are mediocre at best, despite his 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame. In addition, two former Packers tight ends, Martellus Bennett and Marcedes Lewis, joked this offseason about McCarthy’s scheme being poor for true in-line tight ends to make an impact. Perhaps this, combined with casting Graham in that role, contributed to his so-so production as a receiver.
The other possibility is that Graham’s physical tools are leaving him. He does not appear on film to possess the elite speed or quickness that made him so dangerous as a member of the New Orleans Saints early in his career. LaFleur will need to evaluate his abilities and put him in a position for him to succeed.
If Graham fails to impress again this fall, the Packers would be able to move on easily prior to the 2020 season. His contract would carry just a $3.67 million hit on the salary cap for 2020 if the team were to release him then, and that would free up $8 million in cap space that year. For now, however, Graham appears to be in the Packers’ plans for the upcoming season.